Thursday, 16 August 2007


Today 'the man from the department', as he is known, came to the croft for a site visit. The owner of the original crofthouse was invited too, but he lives in London and I wouldn't recognise him if I passed him on the street. Not surprisingly, he didn't turn up. His father-in-law came, and that is all I will say on the matter, at least for today.

The topic of the site visit was our application to 'decroft' a wee patch of land, on which I want, one day, to build a house. Just a little house. Caravans and sheds are wonderful, but sometimes, when I've onned and offed waterproofs and wellies enough for one day, I think it might be nice to have a single roof under which bath, bed and biscuits can all be housed. As with most crofts, we don't own the land, but have a tenancy that is protected by a bulwark of law worthy of a Dickensian novel: a croft, so the saying goes, is a little patch of land surrounded by a large amount of legislation. Unfortunately such legal foundations do not impress capitalist institutions like banks, and so in order to even apply for a mortgage to pay to build a house, the land on which the house will sit must be taken out of crofting and bought from the landowner. (Fortunately one of those bits of law establishes the absolute right to buy the croft, at 15 times the annual rent, which in our case is less than £20 - it's an absolute bargain at least until the lawyers add their fee.)

So, about two and half months ago, we applied to decroft a house site. Since then we have exchanged formal, nit-picking letters with the Crofters Commission five times and at last, today, ' the man from the department' came to see the site. He was a cheerful character, and he had sensibly brought his wellies and waterproofs. Given the weather forecast, all four of us were dressed in full body armour, but we were lucky and the rain held off until the very end, which eased the detailed scrutiny of feu papers and maps needed to establish quite what exactly would cease to be croftland, should our application succeed. The department in question is what used to be called SEERAD, the Scottish Executive Environment and Rural Affairs Department, but what it is these days since we got the new government I am not sure. Anyway, the task for today was to assess whether there will be a loss to agriculture as a result of the land ceasing to be part of the croft. Since the land in question consists of bare rock, peatbog and a few scrubby birch trees, our man saw no problem, and promised to say so in his report to the Commission. Quite how long it will take them to make their decision is anyone's guess. I'm not holding my breath.

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